The Book of Allah repeatedly encourages man to reflect; in fact, the verb yatafakkaru (they reflect) is mentioned 17 times. In his book, The Book of Assistance, Imam Al-Haddad remarks that reflection is the lamp of the heart, if it departs, the heart will have no light. Therefore, without reflection, the heart is darkened and life is lived with a sense of hollowness, devoid of meaningful purpose. It is no wonder the Greek philosopher Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
What is taking stock?
Stock-taking is a constant introspection whereby we take ourselves into account throughout the day. It is about being fully aware of our inner reactions to our outside world. It is what Western psychology nowadays refers to as ‘mindful living’. If you’ve ever tried living mindfully you will agree that mindful living is certainly not an easy task. It entails work. It is the constant bringing of our souls to account for what we think about, what we say and withhold, what we see, hear, eat, wear, how we interact with others, how we spend our wealth and our time, the quality of our ‘ibadah, where we are at in our lives and where we’re going. It is a constant, ongoing and neverending process.
What is the purpose of all this?
One may wonder exactly what the purpose of all this hard and continuous introspection is and if it’s even necessary. Consider the opposite. Life can have a dreary tone with our usual ritualistic day-to-day tasks we fulfill; there’s eating, sleeping, praying, parenting and household chores. It’s the same routine repeated almost every day and before you know it, the days blend into each other until another year has passed and you’re one year closer to meeting Allah . If we’re not careful, our life can waste away in this manner.
When Socrates said the unexamined life is therefore not worth living he was cautioning against living an empty life: a life switched on autopilot without any richness and meaning. You see, while the constant task of taking our soul to account is hard work, the fruit of this constant questioning, purging and polishing leads to a life of excellence and purpose wherein the awakening of insight is also a corollary. It leads to a life that is meaningful and satisfying, one that we can look back upon with a glowing smile knowing that we gave this one life our best shot.
The noble companion ‘Umar Ibnul Khattab took himself into account daily by asking himself: “O soul what did you do today?” What did you do today?” This is a reminder that each day is a gift, an opportunity to start afresh and live a life full of purpose. If we look into the lives of the people of taqwa we will see that they conscientiously put their thoughts to reckoning, as thoughts are the seeds that grow into good or bad actions. Therefore, just as a banker meticulously counts his money, so too should a believer meticulously sift out his thoughts on a regular basis.
What are the benefits of taking stock?
Taking stock shows you where you are presently in your life, how you’re faring, which areas of your life you need to work on and grow, what your accomplishments are and what you still want to achieve. It also leads to character building. By pushing you to confront who you are as a person, it brings knowledge of the self and can thus assist you in building yourself as a person by removing unwanted thoughts and traits and adopting positive ones.
Additionally, it can bring about healing, where you forgive others and yourself for past errors and thus help you let go of unwanted baggage that weighs you down. It brings a sense of control and order to your life; you’re not just living on autopilot but living with awareness, richly and with a mission.
Constant introspection develops a keen sense of insight. Being an insightful person is a gift and can earn you the ability to help others by offering good counsel. Purging and polishing the soul and going against base desires for the sake of Allah is an act of ‘ibadah we will be rewarded for. An introspective person is less likely to make unwise decisions that will earn regret as it causes you to stop, wait and think things through.
Frequent introspection causes you to be in touch with yourself: you get to know yourself well as you become in tune with your innermost thoughts and feelings and you’ll more likely stay true to your values. It leads to a greater sense of inner peace. As an introspective person you won’t want to live with issues that weigh heavily on your conscience such as unresolved conflicts with loved ones or acts that you’ll need to repent for. All these destroy your sense of inner peace.
How to take stock
On a daily basis:
Taking stock can be done anywhere anytime throughout your day, but it is best done in solitude. Every evening when the house has quietened down, sit for a few minutes and take yourself to task.
Think about your day from start to finish; think about the quality of your interactions with your loved ones, whether you are guilty of backbiting, whether your eyes stared at any haram. Stop at every limb and put it to task making sincere istighfar when you find yourself in error. Also think of how you can improve in areas the next day. Check to see if your daily goals were met as well. This will In sha Allah lead to a state of inner and outer excellence.
Stephen Covey in his highly acclaimed “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” advised setting aside one day of the week and planning your week ahead. He provides a proposed weekly worksheet allocating space for goals that include mental, spiritual, emotional, physical and social. This is a sure-fire way to get you working on and accomplishing your goals.
Muhammad Al-Shareef designed a 135-page companion guide to self-improvement based on criteria that draw us closer to Allah as taught in the Qur’an and Sunnah. This is especially beneficial to follow in Ramadan.
Ramadan for me has always been a great time to reflect on my achievements since the previous one and to formulate my goals until the next one. The big plus here is that you can use this month to make specific duas for your goals to materialise, and use this month to start better habits for the rest of the year.
So let’s take stock of ourselves before we are taken stock of on the day where every atom’s worth of deeds will be brought to account. Hasan Al-Basri so pertinently advised us when he said: “The world is 3 days. As for yesterday, it has vanished along with all that was in it. As for tomorrow, you may never see it. As for today, it is yours, so work on it.”
Do you make time for self-reflection? Let us know how it has helped you in the comments section below.
About the Author
Saleema Dawood is a freelance writer from sunny South Africa. Her work has been published in several local and international publications. She has a passion for child-related topics and is a mum to a sprightly 3 year old, a newborn baby girl and 2 step-daughters.